Nurse Conscientiously Objects to Force-Feeding Detainees at Guantánamo Bay

[Content Note: Torture.]

Background: For more than a year, a number of detainees at Guantánamo Bay have been on a hunger strike, and the US military has been force-feeding them. In May, US District Judge Gladys Kessler ordered Gitmo officials to hand over dozens of secret videos as part of a lawsuit regarding the force-feeding of hunger striker Abu Wa'el Dhiab, and, last month, twenty-eight videos were handed over, three of which were entered into evidence. It was also reported that officials had stopped recording the force-feeding sessions, although they continued.

Now, a nurse at the facility has said he ethically cannot continue to force-feed detainees:
In the first known rebellion against Guantánamo's force-feeding policy, a Navy medical officer recently refused to continue managing tube-feedings of prison hunger strikers and was reassigned to "alternative duties."

A prison camp spokesman, Navy Capt. Tom Gresback, would not provide precise details but said Monday night that the episode had "no impact to medical support operations at the base."

"There was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry out the enteral feeding of a detainee," he said in an email. "The matter is in the hands of the individual's leadership."

Word of the refusal reached the outside world last week in a call from prisoner Abu Wael Dhiab to attorney Cori Crider of the London-based legal defense group Reprieve. Dhiab, a hunger striker, described how a nurse in the Navy medical corps abruptly refused to "force-feed us" sometime before the Fourth of July — and disappeared from detention center duty.

Crider called the male nurse the first known U.S. military conscience objector of the 18-month-long hunger strike in the prison camps, and said his dissent took "real courage ... none of us should underestimate how hard that has been."

...Crider said Dhiab quoted the nurse as announcing, "I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act."

...Medical staff are allowed to refuse by invoking medical ethics, [Retired Army Brig. Gen. Stephen Xenakis, a psychiatrist who visits the prison frequently and considers Guantánamo force-feeding policy to be unethical] said, and should not be treated as insubordinate. Instead, the nurse should be allowed to continue providing health care to detainees, just not enteral feeds.

"They have said to us directly that if a provider objects for ethical reasons or other reasons they would not be ordered to participate — and they would not suffer any adverse consequences," said Xenakis.
Let's hope that's true. Of course, the increasing lack of transparency at Guantánamo Bay means that it will be very difficult to know whether he suffers any adverse consequences as a result of his decency and compassion.

We've been holding some of these men, without charge or trial, for more than twelve years. Convicted of no crime, they would rather starve themselves to death than continue to rot away in a prison thousands of miles from home, and we won't even give them the freedom to make that choice. Instead, we torture them by strapping them down and force-feeding them.

A nurse tasked with this horror has refused to do so, and the prison camp spokesperson wants to make sure we know that his protest has had "no impact to medical support operations at the base."

Well, it should. It should impact every person tasked with the "medical support operation" of torturing human beings held without charge.

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